Mathieu van der Poel at Paris-Roubaix.

Van der Poel after Roubaix seems to go exactly to plan: ‘I never really make a plan’

Mathieu van der Poel says he 'thought it was a good moment' when he went clear with just under 60 km to go.

Dane Cash
by Dane Cash 07.04.2024 Photography by
Kristof Ramon
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Watching Mathieu van der Poel seal Alpecin-Deceuninck’s third-straight Monument victory in the Roubaix Velodrome, it would have been easy to draw the conclusion that every single thing has gone according to some grand plan this spring. But Van der Poel himself said in the Roubaix press room on Sunday that he does not, actually, go into a race with a meticulously crafted approach.

“I never really make a plan,” he said. “Especially today, you never know if you’re gonna be in a situation or not with a flat tire or mechanical.”

Van der Poel built his second-straight Roubaix win on an attack from just under 60 km out, as he surged clear on the Orchies sector of cobbles, which is classified as a three-star difficulty section by the organizers. In the aftermath of the race, Van der Poel asserted that it simply felt like the right time to go.

“Yeah, I thought it was a good moment there,” he said. “We were already quite a small group and the cooperation was not really good in the group. I just wanted to make the final hard from there.”

It helped that Van der Poel’s move came after his Alpecin-Deceuninck team had been hard at work on the front of the pack for hours since the Compiègne start, and that, at least, was very much part of the plan. The bunch was already whittled down by the time it came into the vaunted chicanes ahead of the Trouée d’Arenberg, and got even smaller thereafter. By the time Van der Poel was gearing up to go, there were few contenders left to drop, and he still had teammates Jasper Philipsen and Gianni Vermeersch lurking.

Mathieu van der Poel at the Arenberg Trench at Paris-Roubaix.
Mathieu van der Poel was already showing signs of aggression in the Arenberg forest.

His rivals must have been wondering when the move would come, but Van der Poel did at least make his intentions known to the rest of the Alpecin-Deceuninck squad once he had decided on a course of action.

“I did communicate it,” he said – while implying that this was not how he was inclined to operate in the past. “They also asked me this time to communicate when I was going to attack so I did it and they were aware of it.”

For a few brief moments after he surged clear, Van der Poel held onto only a small advantage over his pursuers, but that would inevitably change. By the time he hit the Carrefour de l’Arbre, which has launched so many other attacks in Roubaix history, Van der Poel’s win already seemed secure.

Buffeted by a tailwind as he pressed on towards the finish, Van der Poel opened up and held onto a huge advantage, ultimately winning by exactly three minutes, the largest margin since Johan Museeuw won in 2002. That gave him plenty of time to soak it all in and to ponder the enormity of what he had done on a day where it was clear to all that he is head and shoulders above the competition on this terrain right now.

Van der Poel now counts six Monuments wins to his name, and he nabbed those last two while wearing the world champion’s jersey. Even for someone from a long line of cycling champions who has been a star in his own right from a very young age, what Van der Poel has achieved – and all before his 30th birthday too – already makes him one of the most decorated riders of his generation. Van der Poel himself is still trying to wrap his head around that.

“I think I could only dream of this when I was a kid,” he said. “Also, with the jersey, it makes it even more special, of course. I could have never imagined all the races I win now. I was actually just focused on cyclocross when I was younger, so it’s amazing and I really also try to enjoy it.”

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